Why Do I Get Acne As An Adult? Zooming in on the Causes of Adult Acne
Wed, April 14, 2021

Why Do I Get Acne As An Adult? Zooming in on the Causes of Adult Acne


Acne is a disease that involves the sebaceous follicles and hair follicles of the skin, explained Dr. Diana Howard of The International Dermal Institute, an American personal care company. Acne occurs in those who have a genetic predisposition, so if it runs in the families of both parents, three out of four children may have it.

For adults, dealing with acne can be frustrating, according to the American Academy of Dermatology, one of the largest organizations of dermatologists. If you have acne, you might resort to using treatment that worked effectively in your teen years, which can either be useless or worsen your acne. You might wonder if adults do get acne—yes, they do.  

Adult Acne Vs. Adolescent Acne

Nevena Skroza, MD, and colleagues said of 1,167 patients suffering from acne, 453 or 41.3% were adults and 713 or 58.7% were adolescents, according to their 2018 study published in online life sciences journal portal PMC. Among adults, females were more prevalent with 385 (85%) patients versus 69 (15%) male patients. In adolescents, 378 (53%) females had acne versus 335 male patients (47%).

“Mild acne” was the most frequent form of acne severity among 92% in adult females, 82% in adult males, 89% in teenage females, and 77% in teenage males, respectively. In contrast, “severe acne” was the least frequent form among 1% in adult females, 3% in adult males, 1% in teenage females, and 1% in teenage males. Skroza and colleagues found that “moderate acne” was observed homogeneously in all subgroups, with 15% in adult males and 22% in teenage males and 7% in adult females and 10% in teenage females.

The authors also took into account family history and the onset of acne in adult males and females. Smoking habits were also considered in the adolescent and adult groups. Of the 454 patients examined, 322 (70.9%) mentioned a family history of acne. Regarding the time of onset, 321 (70.9%) of 454 patients were classified as having “persistent” adult acne, while 133 (29.3%) out of 454 had the “late-onset” type of adult acne.  

74 patients (16.3%) were identified to have smoking habits. In the adult acne group, Women (62 women) who smoked were more prevalent than their male counterparts (12 men). Meanwhile, the prevalence of smokers was similar in the adolescent group.

Statistics on Acne Prevalence and Treatment

In the United States, acne is the most common skin condition affecting up to 50 million Americans each year, as documented by the American Academy of Dermatology. Acne usually begins in puberty but it can occur at any stage of life, even into one’s 30s and 40s. Adult acne is increasing, with 15% of women suffering from this condition.

As of 2013, the costs of treatment and lost productivity among those who sought medical care for acne surpassed $1.2 billion. Over 5.1 million individuals, particularly children and young adults, sought medical care for acne in the same year. Nearly $400 million worth of productivity had been lost among patients and caregivers due to acne.

In a 2011 study of 2,895 women, acne was more prevalent in women with darker skin types than those with lighter skin, occurring in 37% of African-American women and 32% of Hispanic women, said Perkins AC and their team of PubMed, as cited in Skroza and colleagues’ work. 

On the other hand, 30% of Asian, 24% of Caucasians, and 23% of Indians had acne. Inflammatory acne was more frequent than non-inflammatory forms, occurring in 20% versus 10% of Asian women. Among Caucasian women, non-inflammatory acne was more prevalent at 14% versus 10%.

Why Do I Have Acne?

It might be due to your fluctuating hormone levels, as imbalance can result in breakouts. For women, they experience hormonal imbalances around their periods and during pregnancy, peri-menopause, and menopause. Acne also occurs after starting or discontinuing birth control pills.

Stress can aggravate acne since your body produces more androgens, a type of hormone. Androgens stimulate the skin’s oil glands and hair follicles, causing acne. This is why it can be an ongoing problem when you are under constant stress. Additionally, you are more likely to get adult acne when your loved ones have this predisposition.

Did you know that hair and skincare products can also cause acne? Be sure to read the labels on your skincare and hair care products. The labels non-comedogenic, non-acnegenic, oil-free, and "won’t clog pores should be present in those products.

Acne can also be a medication side effect. If you think that a medicine triggers your acne or makes it worse, talk to the doctor who prescribed it. Request to take a different medicine if acne is a possible side effect. If not, you may consider consulting a dermatologist who can help control your acne.

But it can also be a symptom of an underlying medical condition such as polycystic ovarian syndrome or other endocrine disorders, said Kristina Liu, MD, MHS, and Janelle Nassim, MD, of Harvard Health Publishing, a health and medical information website.

How Is Adult Acne Treated?

Treatment can vary from person to person, stated Jennifer Leavitt, MS of Healthline, an online medical news source. For some individuals, over-the-counter (OTC) remedies work quickly but a doctor may prescribe a better medication to treat acne.

OTC remedies include hydroxyl and other beneficial acids, oral birth control pills, antibiotics, sulfur, blue light therapy, and more. Alternatively, home remedies you can try to treat acne are aloe vera, probiotics, vitamin A, zinc, green tea extract, apple cider vinegar, and tea tree oil.

Are There Ways to Prevent Acne?

Acne is not always within your control, but you can always do something to prevent breakouts. Avoid going to bed with makeup on and avoid products that contain oil. Be sure to follow a nutritious diet, exercise, and adhere to a skincare routine. With regard to diet, there is evidence that introducing dietary changes may help reduce the risk of acne.

In a study of 78,529 children, adolescents, and young adults, Juhl CR and colleagues found that dairy products were associated with increased risk of acne among individuals aged seven to 30-years-old, mentioned Liu and Nassim. However, the findings should be interpreted with caution due to heterogeneity and bias across studies. The relationship between diet and acne is still a new area of research, but it may be better understood in the future. Adults get acne due to hormonal fluctuations, stress, genetics, and more. Treatment varies from person to person, so it’s best to consult your dermatologist for a recommendation. Acne may be beyond your control, but you can still treat and prevent it.